The Roads Not Taken
In Sally Potter’s first star-studded drama since The Party in 2017, The Roads Not Taken unravels over a single day in the lives of Leo (Javier Bardem), a sufferer of dementia, and his daughter Molly (Elle Fanning), who does all she can to care for him whilst also attempting to juggle her career and life of her own. Their journey takes them through the concrete jungle of New York, their course set on the most menial of tasks such as a trip to the dentist and an optometrist. However, these simple errands prove more laborious than ever due to Leo’s deteriorating condition. Much like Leo’s memory, the trip is interjected with flashbacks to previous moments in his life that could have changed his future. Molly and his ex-wife Rita (Laura Linney) are left to steer his body throughout the day, while his mind is elsewhere.
Like a 19th-century steam train, The Roads Not Taken takes a while to really get going, breaking incredibly slowly out of the station. But once it’s free, the plot steadily begins chugging along. A scattered picture that drifts in and out of reality, the narrative takes its time slowly peeling away layers, giving very little away as to the who, what, when, where and why for the majority of the first act. Much like Leo’s perspective on life, the world around him appears completely chaotic. At times this mechanism can be painfully dull, making the movie arduous viewing despite its short, 85-minute runtime. Although this poses an early obstacle for the viewer to overcome, it is evident that once greater detail and understanding is established through character unearthing and changing environments, the story becomes increasingly more engaging.
However, with this in mind, the work’s primary positives come from the performances of the main cast. Bardem’s career is a rollercoaster ride of emotional roles such as Paco in Everybody Knows, partnered with others of grit and character like his famous performances in No Country for Old Men and as the vengeance-seeking Raoul Silva in Skyfall. In The Roads Not Taken, his part provides a new, albeit restricting challenge, but one that Bardem rises to capably. It is incredibly endearing to behold the actor playing one character at three different stages in his life, exercising his versatility through such a complex personality and script whilst his mental state shatters like a mirror.
For Fanning, the role is uniquely independent, undeniably tiresome and emotionally draining as she takes on the responsibility of exuding the film’s strains and heartache that come from the position of carer that young Molly finds herself in. Sadly, this seems to be the only side of Fanning that we get to see, making Molly quite a one-dimensional character. She is evidently worn to the bone with exhaustion from caring for her father but shows unrequited love all the same – a trait we finally get to see appreciated by Leo in a beautiful closing moment. It is in a number of scenes involving this main duo that we see some of the finest chemistry and character developments, with clashing personalities and psyches ultimately prevailing through what can only be seen as an almighty struggle for both involved.
2020 is not a great time for any film to be released. But when baring a cast like this one, you could argue a box office smash hit is on the cards. Instead, this feature will have to make do with online sales and streaming services to try and recoup some of its financials spent. Nonetheless, does Sally Potter worry about this aspect? Arguably not. The award-winning writer/director is renowned for her qualities and experiences as a filmmaker, creating projects from a young age rarely with any financial backing or earning intentions. However, distributors do care and, in this instance, the lack of presence in cinemas may, in fact, do audiences a favour, for, in the case of this story, the road is best not taken.
The Roads Not Taken is released nationwide on 11th September 2020.
Watch the trailer for The Roads Not Taken here: